This chapter provides an institutional and contextual background to the plans, expectations and ideals that the interviewed parents-to-be expressed in the country chapters. Organized in two sections, the first is devoted to a description of the welfare states and the gender regimes where the interviewed couples lived. When trying to make informed decisions regarding, for example, the division of family leave or when to introduce the child to non-parental care, parents-to-be consider factors such as employment security, the availability and affordability of childcare and mothers’, and less often fathers’, ability to work part-time. We therefore discuss employment and unemployment rates, the incidence of part-time work and the proportion of children in formal childcare in the countries studied in the first part of the chapter. In the second part, the focus shifts to the micro-level and the couples’ everyday lives at the time of the interviews. Here, the discussion departs from the stories of one couple from each country, in order to give the reader a sense of the context and the family policy setting that framed these couples’ plans and decisions. The latter part of this section includes a description of the maternity, paternity and parental leave policies in place at the time of the interviews in each country. The summaries of the plans and expectations expressed by the interviewed couples indicate that the norms, ideals and strategies for how to practice ‘good’ – or good enough – mothering and fathering vary, not only between couples within a country, but also between countries. As the first part of this chapter indicates, variation between countries is strengthened by differences in welfare state regimes, family policy frameworks and labour market institutions.
Edited by Daniela Grunow and Marie Evertsson
Why do European couples living fairly egalitarian lives adopt a traditional division of labour at the transition to parenthood? Based on in-depth interviews with 33 parents-to-be in eight European countries, this book explores the implications of family policies and gender culture from the perspective of individual couples who are expecting their first child. Couples’ Transitions to Parenthood: Analysing Gender and Work in Europe is the first comparative, qualitative study which explicitly locates couples’ parenting ideals and plans in the wider context of national institutional structures. These structures embody different degrees of congruence between national family policies, employment protection, care provision and the dominant gender culture in the early twenty-first century. The book applies a novel analytical framework to detect these policy-culture gaps which serve as points of reference for the parents-to-be studied in this volume. The book shows how the parents’ agency varied along with the policy-culture gaps in their own countries and provides evidence of their struggle to adapt to, or resist, socially desired paths and patterns of change during the transition to parenthood. Evidence of a misfit between family policy and gender culture is widespread in the interviews in serval of the countries, thus weakening expectant parents’ potential to share paid and unpaid work more equally. The eight country studies in this volume provide novel insights into how dual-earner couples in Europe planned for the division of paid work and care during the transition to parenthood. In addition, three comparative chapters illuminate why transitions to parenthood differed in distinct institutional and situational contexts and why even egalitarian-minded couples often experienced this transition as gendered. The ways in which institutional structures limit possible choices and beliefs about ‘how to do things right’ are linked in ways that often go unnoticed by social scientists, policy makers, and by parents themselves. To elucidate these links is what the editors consider the main contribution of this book. Couples’ Transitions to Parenthood: Analysing Gender and Work in Europe provides: • A unique, comparative and in-depth analysis of transitions to parenthood in contemporary Europe, focusing on Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic, and Poland • Cutting edge comparative qualitative methodology and innovative combination of macro and micro data • New theoretical insights into the link between structure and agency • Analysis of social policies and their impact on individual parents-to-be
Marie Evertsson and Daniela Grunow
The research question spurring this edited volume was why European couples living fairly egalitarian lives adopt traditional gender practices at the transition to parenthood. Based on in-depth interviews with 167 couples in eight European countries, this chapter pulls the findings from the different country studies together and draws conclusions in light of the conceptual framework and the guiding research question. The interviews illustrate how parents-to-be enacted agency in diverse institutional and social contexts. The chapter highlights the role of family policies in the couples’ struggle to adapt to, or resist, socially desired paths and patterns of change during the transition to parenthood. We discuss the findings concerning these macro-micro links in comparative perspective, focusing on mothering and fathering ideals, the dominant gender culture, family policies and the policy-culture gaps that arise when the gender culture does not correspond with existing family policies. Our findings suggest that gendered preferences of work-care divisions partly result from country-specific interplays of the dominant gender culture and family policies. Dominant ideas about ‘naturally becoming’ a mother were followed by a perceived need to actively socially construct fatherhood. Institutions further shaped ideas about working mothers and the extent to which mothers-to-be – but not fathers-to-be – had resigned to the idea that their career would have to suffer as they became parents. The ways in which institutional structures limited possible choices and beliefs about ‘how to do things right’ were linked in ways that often went unnoticed by the couples themselves. As a result, those struggling to live up to the dominant gender culture not only experienced uncertainty about the future, they also often blamed themselves for not being the kind of parents (often mothers) that they desired to be. Contrary to the construction that these are individual or individuals’ issues, the comparative evidence suggests that many of the gendered choices and resulting problems encountered by parents-to-be have an institutional foundation. In essence, our comparative findings highlight the need for family policies to offer working mothers a minimum of six months of financially compensated leave, in line with World Health Organization breastfeeding advice, the need for reliable childcare following the period of paid care leave for parents, and a combination of income related compensation and legally enforced job guarantees as a precondition for fathers to consider claiming care leave. Given the high number of self-employed in some countries, we find it important that job guarantees apply to all women and men irrespective of the type of employment contract, as suggested by the EU directive on parental leave (Council directive 2010/18/EU). Elucidating these links between gendered processes of identity construction, couples’ work-care plans and the policy-culture gap is thus the main contribution of this book.